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The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule (Holt Paperback) Paperback – December 9, 2004
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..".for a very soundly documented and reasoned set of specifics, I know of no better single volume than this one. Give it to everyone you know whose head and heart you respect, but who is flirting with irrationality."
"Shermer does know his enemy, and it gives him a decided advantage in writing a book such as this, which aims to demonstrate that we don't need God at all to be moral human beings, that in fact human evolution has built a tendency toward moral behavior into our brains... A seeker who has found the best answers he can find in skepticism and a purely rational approach to life."
About the Author
Michael Shermer is the author of The Believing Brain, Why People Believe Weird Things, The Science of Good and Evil, The Mind Of The Market, Why Darwin Matters, Science Friction, How We Believe and other books on the evolution of human beliefs and behavior. He is the founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, the editor of Skeptic.com, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an adjunct professor at Claremont Graduate University. He lives in Southern California.
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If you really want a solid answer to the question of what morality is and why it should be followed, check out "Relativism: Feet firmly planted in mid-air" by Greg Koukl. A solid read.
On page 81, Dr. Shermer writes: "September 11, 2001, comes to mind here. United States President George W. Bush described what happened that day as an act of pure evil. Yet millions of people around the world celebrate that day as a triumphant victory over what they perceive to be an evil American culture. What we are witnessing here is not a conceptual difference in understanding the true nature of evil. Nor is it simply a matter of who is in the right. It is, at least on one important level, a difference of perspective. To achieve true understanding and enlightenment it might help to understand what the other side was thinking."
He should issue a public apology for trying to minimize the moral gravity of these actions and ignoring the human pain they caused. He should be ashamed of defending terrorists who killed thousands of innocents in the name of God. None of us will move any closer to "enlightenment" if we join him in dismissing the specific actions that caused the 9/11 mass murders as a "difference of perspective." The degree of evil of the 9/11 murders does not depend on the fluctuating measures America's popularity in foreign public opinion polls. Exploring every delusion held by the 9/11 terrorists won't make their crimes less vicious or bring their victims back to life.
According to Dr. Shermer "pure evil" is nothing but a word. Any morally blameworthy act can be nothing more than what Shermer names "provisional evil." If we accept his limited concept, an ethical and moral gray area must always exist when thousands of innocents are brutally murdered in the name of God.
In truth, the ultimate value of human life transcends space, time, material reality, and Darwinian evolution because we are loved by, and created for, eternal friendship with an eternal God who exists independent of the Big Bang and all material reality. The intentional mass murder of innocent human life is "pure evil" because it rejects the God-given inherent worth of the human person.
In a recent e-mail, Dr. Shermer told me he supports the current war in the Middle East. He also said he doesn't endorse or excuse the 9/11 attacks.
He can't have it both ways, however. The statement he chose to publish in his book gives comfort to all current and future enemies of human life, and he should print a retraction on his website at [...] Shame on you, Dr. Shermer.
I did like parts, especially early early on. But I had to find a pen and write "whatt??!" in the margin when I read "Natural selection is believed by most evolutionary biologists to operate strictly on the organism level: the individual organism is the primary target of selection because it is the only thing that nature 'sees.'" No, this is not true; a major misunderstanding. The gene is the unit, not the organism. He goes on to argue for group selection as bringing about morality and overlooks genes altogether. I'll only pick on one other item, that's his final of six and his preferred "scientific attempt to derive free will out of determinism." The others include evolution, genetics, and neuroscience (yes, these are three different theories). The last, best one, is home-grown: "Free Will and Chaos and Complexity Theory." It's the climax of the chapter and for me, the end of the book. It's a complicated theory to be sure, but as I gave it the old college try it occurred to me that it would have have made a better title of the book itself -- at least a more descriptive one. This book was not for me.